This week Natalie asks, "Why would God answer my prayer with so many other problems in the world?" Natalie's question points to the nature of God as to both God's ability and availability to us and to the world.
On any given Sunday morning, and indeed during any time of the day of the week, there are literally thousands of prayers being offered to God. This past week I was a guest at a Ukrainian worship service and it struck me, when the whole congregation began to pray in the Ukrainian language, that God was not only hearing each of the many prayers being offered at that moment, but understanding them as well. And as for me, I understood nothing unless my interpreter shared.
So, what of God's ability to hear all those prayers? How can we understand the mystery?
Well, that's just it. Understanding the eternal and the infinite is a real stretch for linear, finite creatures. For instance, I don't really understand the Trinity-the three persons of God all wrapped up into one deity, but not just one, but three. Oh there are a number of metaphors out there to help me understand, but I don't really quite "get it." Then there's the eternal. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." But what happened before that? Who created God? Well, no one created God, God's just always been. But what about before then? There was no "before then." And I don't understand that either. Or that we send a space craft out in one direction, it will never come to the end. It just keeps on going, and going, and going.forever.
If I don't understand that, how am I supposed to understand anything about God? Well, I'm not. Finite cannot fully grasp infinite-the best we can do is metaphor and/or faith.
So, how does God hear all those prayers? I don't know. Maybe God slows down the space-time continuum and then takes them one at a time. Or perhaps God is like air or space and is touching everything at once and is somehow aware of all that is touched. Or perhaps God is "fast", that like a humming bird, God is able to dart between us really, really fast. Or maybe God is God and my understanding isn't all that important, but my trust is.
The scriptures also say that God is "available" to us. Repeatedly we're invited to pray and to take our worries, our concerns, our needs, and our wants to God. The Psalms are full of examples of the prayers of people who are sick, angry, frightened, hurting, and even happy/thankful. And repeatedly the scriptures assert that God hears them all.
But just because God has the ability to hear all our prayers, and just because God is available to us, why should God listen to my prayers over, say, the Pope? Or why should God be concerned with my petty problems when there are hungry people the world over starving?
God shouldn't. But God does. For so many years the Church has portrayed God as some great angry spirit who is hell-bent on guilt and punishment. The Church has long used fear and shame as tools to coerce people to cling to God for security. And while there is no doubt that God is both fearsome and awesome, the root metaphor for understanding God in scriptures is love.
Scriptures refer to us as "God's children" (Lamentations 1.16, Isaiah 45.11, Romans 8.17). We are called beloved of God (Romans 1.7). And we're told that God is love (1 John 4.16). God is revealed as our creator, sustainer, and savior. God is, ultimately, our heavenly parent. So, in Jesus' words, "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask!" In other words, God hears our prayers, as frail and stammering as they may be, because God loves us individually as one of God's children. We're not a faceless mass of people, but Natalie, and Bill, and Sue, and Bob, and Kris. We are God's children, and God hears us each and every one, each and every time.